Tiger Men’s Hoops Assistant Ettin Grew as a Coach, Serving on Staff for U.S. Team that Won Maccabiah Gold
SKYE HIGH: Princeton University men’s basketball assistant coach Skye Ettin, right, and Doug Gottlieb enjoy the moment after they guided the U.S. open men’s team to the gold medal at the 2022 Maccabiah Games last month in Israel. Ettin, a former Princeton High and The College of New Jersey basketball standout, served as an assistant coach for the squad, focusing on the team’s defense. Gottlieb, a former Oklahoma State standout point guard and longtime hoops broadcaster, was the team’s head coach. (Photo provided by Skye Ettin)
By Bill Alden
Skye Ettin first traveled to Israel in 2013 for his Birthright trip to get immersed in the cultural heritage and traditions of the country.
This summer, Ettin, a former Princeton High and The College of New Jersey basketball standout and current Princeton University men’s hoops assistant coach, went on a return trip to Israel and made some history in the process.
Serving as the assistant coach for the U.S. open men’s team at the 2022 Maccabiah Games, Ettin helped guide the squad to a gold medal.
For Ettin, taking part in the Maccabiah Games was a career goal.
“I have wanted to be involved for a while, I had never played or coached in it,” said Ettin. “Howard Levy (former Princeton men’s basketball standout and longtime head coach of the Mercer County Community College men’s hoops program) is really heavily involved. He had told me a lot about it. I had heard really good things about it. It seemed like an amazing opportunity so this time, I wanted to get involved.”
Ettin reached out to Josh Schachter, the chair of the U.S. open men’s basketball team, to get in the mix for the coaching staff which was originally going to be headed by Duke assistant Jon Scheyer.
“I went through an interview process and interviewed with both of them a couple of times,” said Ettin, noting that former Princeton star and American associate head coach Scott Greenman was slated to be an assistant coach for the team. “I just got lucky enough to get it as an assistant.”
When Scheyer and Greenman had to bow out as the former became the head coach at Duke and the latter moved to a new job at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Doug Gottlieb, a former Oklahoma State standout point guard and longtime hoops broadcaster, stepped in as head coach.
“I obviously knew who Doug was but I didn’t know him personally,” said Gottlieb, who guided the U.S. men’s open squad to a gold medal at the 2017 Maccabiah Games.
“I wanted to stay on, no matter who the coach was because I was really looking forward to the experience. It worked out great.”
In order to put the squad together, the coaches held a camp in the summer of 2021.
“We did our tryouts at Duke because we had already booked it in advance,” said Ettin. “Duke was gracious enough to let us stay there. We had kids from all over, we had 80-100 kids come and try out for the 12 spots on the roster.”
Once the squad was finalized, Ettin liked what he saw. “I thought we had a really good mix of talent, we had a mix of diverse skill sets,” said Ettin, noting that the team consisted mainly of Division I players with three from the D-III ranks.
One of the D-I players to make the team was Blake Peters, a sophomore guard at Princeton.
“It was the best, you don’t get an opportunity in the Ivy League to coach your guys during the summer,” said Ettin. “There is no summer school so just the chance to be around him and spend a whole month with him and coach him was something you will never forget. I think it was a really good experience for me and him.”
Prior to heading over to Israel, the team held an intense three-day training camp at Kean University in late June.
“It was good, it was unique,” said Ettin, reflecting on the camp. “For one, you have to evaluate what you have got and then you have to put in your defense and your offense pretty quickly. Doug has a spirit of playing, he wants the guys to learn quickly on the move by playing. We went pretty hard for those three days with two-a-days. We learned pretty quickly about what we had and started to build a rotation and work on the defense from there.”
Ettin’s work focused on the defensive end. “I was responsible for defense,” said Ettin, noting that the coaching staff also included Matt Kittner from TCNJ and Ronny Levy, who is based in Israel. “I put in the defense. I got it implemented, I called the coverages. I did the game plan and all of that stuff, it was great for me.”
Based in a suburb of Tel Aviv, the U.S. squad soaked in the atmosphere of the international competition that brings together 10,000 athletes from 85 countries taking part in 45 sports.
“It was amazing, it really had an Olympic feeling,” said Ettin. “You have all of these different teams, all of these different countries and all the different sports. They had everything from like basketball to handball. It was pretty amazing.”
The opening ceremony reinforced that Olympic feeling. “It was really, really special,” said Ettin. “We are marching into the stadium with the whole U.S. delegation. There were tens of thousands of people there, it was packed. To make it even more special, we were one of the five or six teams that got to meet President Biden before the ceremony because he was out there which was pretty amazing.”
In getting ready for the competition, the team combined practices with participating in the Israel Connect, a program designed to immerse Maccabi athletes and coaches with the Jewish culture of Israel.
“It was spending so much time with this group and really getting to know them,” said Ettin. “You are waking up together really early. You practice from 7 to 9 in the morning and you are touring from 10 to 6. You are with everybody the whole day, especially that first week and a half. You are with the whole U.S. delegation, we shared a bus with women’s soccer. You met people from different sports as you did the touring activities. It was really neat.”
Playing in Stage 1 pool play, the U.S. went 5-0 and gained momentum as it went along.
“We were just trying to figure it out a little bit more together as a group, how to come together, how to play and what each individual’s strengths were,” said Ettin. “As you start to get a little bit closer to medal play where there is really an opportunity to win gold, you start to be a little bit more selfless. You start to think a little more about the team because there is something that everyone is fighting for together.”
Ettin credited Gottlieb with helping the team come together.
“Doug is fiery, he has a load of passion,” said Ettin. “On a trip like this, he is so good at bringing the group together with his passion because he cares so much, because he has pushed you so hard. What I really commend Doug on is he had three goals. One was to make this an experience of a lifetime for everyone, and two was for individual guys to get better. We did skill development every day, he cared about the growth of the players. Three was obviously to win gold. He held true to all of three things consistently and that was a big part of our success.”
Facing France in the gold medal game, the U.S. trailed 37-35 at halftime before earning an 81-70 win.
“We knew it was going to be a good game, the first game was a good game (a 90-77 win for the U.S.) and we were able to pull away at the end,” said Ettin. “In the championship game, we were down two at half and we were struggling a little bit to get a couple of stops. They had done a really good job of preparing and changing up play calls and some different stuff. I think what we did really well in the second half is we went a little bit smaller and we pressured a little bit more. We just grinded out some more stops defensively and that led to some offense.”
In the waning seconds of the contest, Ettin felt a sense of satisfaction and elation.
“It was a long trip, we were there for 23, 24 days,” said Ettin. “As the clock is ticking down, you feel such a rewarding process, going through so much with this group of guys. We put a lot of sweat equity in and time in. Everyone is away from family and friends but it was all worth it. You had a chance to represent your country on that type of stage, it was just a surreal moment. It means so much, there are not many people that get an opportunity in any form or fashion to represent their country. For me, just to play a small part in that and just be lucky enough to have an opportunity to represent the country in the game that I love with one of our Princeton players was a special moment.”
The emotions flowed at the subsequent medal ceremony.
“It was awesome,” recalled Ettin. “That is when you start to get a little teary-eyed. It is emotional.”
For Ettin, who became an assistant coach for Princeton in June 2016 after serving for one season as the program’s director of basketball operations, the Maccabiah experience helped him hone his coaching skills.
“It is the first chance that I have had to try to build a team in a month,” said Ettin. “It is just like a summer course, you have to squeeze a lot in. It helped me be a little more efficient because on the staff at Princeton we have three different assistants and a director of ops. You have different support roles. Here it was us two and the other guys who came and helped, Matt and Ronny. I think it helped me continue to grow my voice and focus purely on defense. I think that was really good growth for me in general and hopefully I can bring back some of the things I learned.”
This week, Ettin will be working on building the Princeton men’s squad for the upcoming campaign as it heads to Europe for a preseason trip.
“I am really excited for the season, we are going to Spain in August for a foreign tour,” said Ettin. “We start in Madrid, work our way to Valencia and then Barcelona.”